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How Leaders Can Harness the Power of Their Employees’ Emotional Lives

Cornerstone Editors

Many managers make the mistake of asking employees to leave their emotional lives at home, thinking such a separation is key to productivity on the job. Not only is that mentality uncaring, but it also creates an unwelcoming and ultimately unproductive work environment because employees have to spend energy hiding their emotions.

Instead, organizations should encourage employees to be their whole selves at work. After all, it’s the only way that company can then use the emotional part of their employees’ lives to foster communication, create an ongoing dialogue between workers and management and promote a more hospitable and productive work environment.

To ensure workers perform their best, leaders should harness three key elements of their employees’ emotional lives, according to Kim Cassady, chief talent officer at Cornerstone.

The Emotional Employee

One of the key emotional elements that leaders should work to unlock within their employees is motivation. The way each person acts—the choices they make, how they interact with coworkers or how they complete assigned tasks—are all affected by that person’s individual motivation. Some workers, for example, might attend a conference motivated by a desire to improve their job skills. Others, though, might be more driven by the possibility of connecting with their boss, who is also attending the conference. "Helping our leaders to understand motivation, or motivational theory, is a key element in bringing humanity into work," Cassady explains.

Every person has core psychological needs that must be met. Depending on the individual’s personality type, an organization might have to meet those needs differently. To understand an employee’s motivation, a leader should try to recognize how she sees the world and the basic needs she has. The best way to get the answers leaders need? Through regular conversations with workers, where leaders ask what employees find most rewarding, most frustrating, etc.

The second element leaders can harness is dialogue, which is about more than just communicating. Creating a dialogue means fostering a work environment where employees can communicate with each other and with management in a way that is open, productive and gives workers a sense of being heard.

To foster effective dialogue, leaders should focus on channels of communication and ensuring messages are received and understood. At organizations with welcoming work environments, channels of communication are bidirectional: Employees hear and understand their leaders, and leaders hear and understand their employees. But how do employees know when they’ve been heard?

If leaders can harness their workers’ motivation and create an ongoing dialogue, they will be able to tap into the third element, action. Leaders who listen to and understand their employees’ needs will be better equipped to make changes within their organization, which will benefit workers and the organization itself.

Workers who feel understood, welcomed and who have a sense of belonging will, in turn, become more motivated to fulfill their organization’s goals. The effect is circular, and so, the opposite is also true. When communication breaks down, workers no longer feel a sense of belonging, and they may not complete their work to as high a standard as they might have when they felt supported and understood by their leaders.

Learning to Unlock Core Motivations

Developing such leadership skills is no easy task. Jeff Miller, associate vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone, compares acquiring these skills to learning another language. "Learning leadership is a foreign language, and by creating consistency around how you’re speaking about work, you’re strengthening your ability to collaborate cross-functionally." Miller and Cassady advise new leaders to take their learning seriously by investing time in trainings, such as LPMA (Leadership Process: Motivating Achievement) and LPMD (Leadership Process: Motivating Dialogue). However, it’s important to remember that excellent leaders don’t learn their skills overnight.

"We didn’t do it all at once," Cassady says, speaking about the gradual approach to training and gaining new leadership skills. "We started with the motivation model, or the motive model, and really got traction from there, before adding in other series. When somebody takes the first training, they’re so jazzed up and rallied by it that they want to jump into the next one. We try to hold them back from that. Go and practice these principles first."

Miller encourages leaders to embrace artificial intelligence and data analysis to understand their organizations as well. But with one caveat. "Data is great," Miller says, "but understanding the fact that behind all of that data is a person... may add a level of complexity to that discussion we really need to consider."

Photo: Creative Commons

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